Sunday, May 22, 2011

Paulino to see more action behind the plate


Josh Thole's numbers are getting ugly.  After a fine first week of the season, Thole has since fallen into a six-week funk with a .172 average, a .245 on-base percentage and a .204 slugging percentage.

Over his last 31 games, he has recorded three extra-base hits. Over his last 17 games, he has one.

As a result, Thole is no longer the Mets' unquestioned starting catcher. Manager Terry Collins said on Sunday morning that he plans to give Ronny Paulino a string of consecutive starts at the position, in large part to give Thole time to clear his head and work on his swing.

"I thought about it last night, thought about it this morning," Collins said on Sunday. "Josh is still going to play. He's still going to get a number of at-bats. I just want to make sure we try to keep them both as sharp as possible."

There is reason to believe that Paulino, a career .274 hitter with staggering numbers against left-handed pitchers, can give the Mets some additional pop with sluggers David Wright and Ike Davis both on the disabled list. So far this season, Paulino has been playing only against lefties and, more recently, on days that Mike Pelfrey was the team's starting pitcher, such as on Sunday.

But Paulino will become the first-string catcher for this week's games in Chicago, despite the fact that the Cubs plan to deploy right-handed starters on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We've talked about it and talked about it, so we're going to play him a couple days and give him some consistent at-bats," Collins said.



For Paulino, the step is significant considering the physical hurdles he has cleared just to be here -- first a blood irregularity that spoiled his Spring Training, then an oblique strain that sidelined him until late April.

"Now, mentally and physically, I finally feel much better," Paulino said.

For Thole, meanwhile, this represents an indefinite break. Hitting coach Dave Hudgens plans to spend time working with Thole this week, attempting to recapture the swing that saw him hit .321 as a rookie in 2009 and .303 over his first 55 games last season.

"The one thing we have to do is be patient because this guy can hit," Collins said. "And he's going to hit. Right now, I just want to give him a chance to work on some things. We've got another guy we think is going to hit, too."
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